Tillis says small-dollar giving to Democrats ‘same exact thing’ as dark money

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Wednesday said broad-based, small-dollar contributions given to Democratic candidates through online donor platforms is the “same exact thing” as political spending by well-heeled “dark money” groups who are allowed to conceal their funding sources.

During a Senate panel hearing about the influence of money over the federal judiciary, Tillis appeared to take aim at ActBlue, an app that helps Democrats and liberal groups collect individual contributions in amounts that are too small to trigger mandatory disclosure rules.

Tillis said he was open to working with Democrats on requiring more transparency from dark money groups but only if Democrats included small-dollar platforms as part of the measure, a prospect Tillis expressed doubts about.

“I don’t hear anybody on the Democratic side saying they want to get rid of those tools,” Tillis said, describing the technology with the epithet “Dem Money.”

“They simply found another way to do exactly the same thing: people providing money to candidates and influencing elections,” he said of Democrats. “They’ve just come up with a more sophisticated, broad-based policy that I doubt very seriously that they’d be willing to abandon.”

An ActBlue spokesperson said the group reports even its smallest donations to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees fundraising for federal campaigns.

Republicans are helped by an equivalent right-leaning platform, WinRed, but amounts raised by Democrats on ActBlue have far exceeded contributions given to GOP candidates.

Tillis’s Democratic opponent in the 2020 North Carolina Senate race, Cal Cunningham, raised $6 million within days of the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Tillis’s comments on Wednesday echoed similar criticism in October by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during his 2020 reelection campaign.

Graham, who saw a surge of small-dollar donations go to his Democratic opponent, said that money flowing through ActBlue and other groups need to be reviewed by policymakers, and suggested without providing evidence that foreign sources could be behind the spending.

“Where is all this money coming from? You don’t have to report it if it’s below $200,” he said, referring to campaign finance rules that don’t require public reporting of individuals who give less than $200. “When this election is over with, I hope there will be a sitting down and finding out, ‘OK, how do we control this?’ It just seems to be an endless spiral.”

— Updated 9:33 p.m.

Tags contributions dark money Fundraising Lindsey Graham Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thom Tillis

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